The power of portfolios, a cumulative demonstration of learning

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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How do we create opportunities for students to show evidence of learning over time?
So often we focus on the moment and forget the importance of recognizing how important it is to observe growth across the years  within the content of our learning processes and products.  Powerful classrooms help students arrive at an understanding of themselves through collecting work over time that they can reflect back on. Beyond the chronological history of producing work, being evaluated, and work toward improving, there is the deeper layer where the patterns of their work tell a personal story of where they are at this time.

One of the seven elements of personalized learning Bena and I describe in our book Students at the Center: Personalized Learning With Habits of Mind (2017) is Cumulative Demonstration of Learning. Portfolios help us continuously recreate the narrative of our own learning. This is an ideal opportunity for students to provide evidence and reflect on what makes them feel efficacious, what engages them, and how they view themselves as learners. They begin to see, through their performances, the way the dispositions affect their creations. For example, to what extent were they able to:

  • Persist in the face of uncertainty?
  • Use precise language to share findings?
  • Show wonderment and curiosity?
  • Imagine and grow ideas?

First in the newsletter is a blog post I had the privilege to collaborate with Art Costa and Bena Kallick on clarifying the “why” of cumulative demonstration of learning. As we re-imagine the critical role that assessment plays for students to become more self-directed, our vision is of learners who are open to growing by seeing themselves through multiple lenses of assessment data, each providing insights to their self-discovery.

Second, I am pleased to feature an interview with David Niguidula to show how the use of digital portfolios can be part of a meaningful learning process of examination and self discovery. Niguidula has assisted schools and districts across the country and around the world as they create proficiency-based requirements and implement new assessment practices.

Third, Bena and I think through how students and teachers can come to the table to imagine the “what” and the “how” of portfolios in this blog post. If the purpose is muddy and consistent actions are not incorporated as part of regular practice, portfolios can be a drain on the energy and resources of both teacher and student. Students may struggle to see the value which diminishes the quality of their reflections. Teachers may struggle to figure out how to evaluate the collection and question the benefit of reexamining past work that was already graded. (P.S. Interested in checking out a process tool for growing students’ capacity as they examine their learning? Email me that request and will send it right back to you.)

Next up is the inspirational Physics teacher Mike Mohammed sharing his approach to digital portfolios in his classrooms as well as sample student portfolios. Mike developed the structure of his portfolios the same way he structures his curriculum and classroom. Check out our interview with him as well as other blog posts by visiting his author page on Learning Personalized. He pays attention to personalizing through engaging students’ passions, introducing rich projects, and developing the Habits of Mind seen in the moment as well as for their future.

Finally, edublogger and consultant Silvia Tolisano offers “10 Tips for Embedding Digital Portfolios as Part of Your Classroom Habits” to help resist the temptation of simply having portfolios for your students without giving them ownership and taking advantage of their pedagogical (strategies, techniques and methods for teaching) and heutagogical (self-directed and self-motivated learning) potential.

Want to check out examples of digital portfolios? Perhaps study the examples with your students to determine purpose, audience, and self-discovery that is revealed as motivation to design or refine use of digital portfolios.

  • Animas High School in Colorado expects every student to develop a digital portfolio that features work throughout their 9-12 experience.
  • Groton-Dunsford in Massachusetts describes how they provided each student with a single,organized space to collect and reflect on learning.
  • Bill Ferriter’s use of digital portfolios in 6th grade and how he encourages students to label posts with categories such as “I’m interested in …” or “I’m working on …” Here is a sample — examples of awesomeness.

How are you using digital portfolios in your classroom or school? What are you using for students to document and share their work? (e.g., SeeSaw, FreshGrade, Google Classroom)

We would love to share some examples from the Learning Personalized community. Please reach out to me to share.

Thank you for continuing to read and engage!


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